Saturday, 31 May 2014

London District - Tower Hamlets

On Monday I spent the day in Tower Hamlets with Revd Stuart Jordan (Chair of District) and Rev Cameron Kirkwood, the Superintendent Minister.
The first visit was to Citizens UK in their London Office. Here I met Neil Jameson, the Executive Director and London Lead Organiser. I heard about the impressive work they do, bringing together groups within the community to work for the common good. If you want to find out more then look at their website here

With Tony at Whitechapel Mission
Next, we went to the Whitechapel Mission. Here I met the Director, Tony. The volunteers had just finished serving breakfast to 200 homeless people, it had been a relatively light morning - sometimes as many as 400 come for food and to use the showers and washing facilities. One or two were sleeping at the tables. Tony explained that it is dangerous to sleep in the night so often those who live on the streets sleep during the day. Some will stay for lifeskills classes and for some there is the option of a resettlement process. Many will have charged their mobile phones before leaving.
Stored sleeping bags
Volunteers come from many places, many work in the city or Canary Wharf and volunteer before going to work in the morning.
We went upstairs and Tony took a book from a glass case. Inside are written names - the names of those on the street known in the mission, who have died. They may not be known or remembered anywhere else but here they are.

You can find out more about the Whitechapel mission here

A bus ride took us to Brick Lane and to Fournier Street. Here John Wesley held the first Covenant Service in what was then a French Huguenot Church. It later became a synagogue and is now an Islamic Centre. The history of this one building offers a glimpse of the diverse and changing community in Tower Hamlets.

From here to Bethnal Green Methodist Church. This church opens its doors to the community on a daily basis. I met Debbie, the community worker just as the group who had gathered for coffee were leaving. Debbie and Rod took me to see the garden.
The local people had asked if they could have a garden area at the church because there is nowhere locally for them to sit outside safely. An area at the side and back of the church was cleared and now there are raised beds for growing vegetables and flowers and a lawned area to sit out on. A fig tree is bearing good fruit and there are strawberries that gave an excellent crop last year.

We left to get the tube to another, very different part of Tower Hamlets - Canary Wharf. The contrast between the two areas is hard to describe but as we came out of the tube station into the gleaming, metallic, spacious commercial area it was like entering another world. We went to 1 Canary Wharf where we were meeting members of the Community Affairs Team of the Canary Wharf Group. The Group aims to work with the local community to provide a point of contact and also helps community groups to access funding and awards grants.
Canary Wharf from the South Bank of the Thames.

View from floor 35
We went to the 35th floor of the building and met Emma Warden (Community and Sport), Zakir Khan (Head of Community Affairs) and Howard Dawber (Head of the Public Affairs Team). We were told of the plans for future development and also learned of the various ways in which the Group is working to support local organisations. It is good that the intention is there and that community groups have benefited from the assistance and advice given. Clearly Cameron and others have made valuable links with the Group which can benefit the wider community.
Stuart and Cameron then left Canary Wharf - I stayed for another hour, looking at the shops before going to join the District Chairs at Central Hall Westminster.
Cameron and Stuart
With Cameron at Canary Wharf
That evening Daleep and I shared a meal and conversation with the District Council. It was a great end to a fascinating day.
I left the next morning to go to Durham for the day where I was preaching and presiding in the Communion service at St John's College, also home to the Wesley Study Centre and Cranmer Hall.
On Wednesday I left County Durham again to rejoin the London District, this time leading the retreat for ministers at Belsey Manor Retreat House near Redhill. As always, I share no details of the retreat but here are a few photographs.
The final week-end of my visit to the London District will be described in another blog.

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